Tonight we continue our series of the Book of Hebrews, and we come to chapter 4. We come to chapter 4. We’re going to consider verses 1 to 13. Now, I realize that the Book of Hebrews is a book that tests your courage, in a sense. And I can honestly say that I admire your faithfulness, coming out Sunday night after Sunday night to labor through the Book of Hebrews. But I can promise you great blessing and great insight into many things as you’re faithful to learn this book.
And, you know, it’s like our children. When we feed our children, we don’t always give them what they like. We sometimes give them what they need. And so I want to be faithful to the call of the ministry to not only give you the things that you may like to hear that may entertain your fancy but to give you those things that you need to understand because they’re so strategic and so important to your understanding of the Word of God and to your own Christian life. And so we’re studying Hebrews and we’re arriving at the 4th chapter, and these first 13 verses are going to show us the subject of entering into God’s rest. And we’ll explain, we trust, in detail so that you’ll be able to understand what’s involved in these verses.
Now, as we approach chapter 4, we are right in the middle of a warning that began in chapter 3, verse 7. Now, I told you initially when we began to study the Book of Hebrews that Hebrews is written to Christians. It is written to believers. However, scattered throughout Hebrews are warnings to unbelievers. Not just any kind of unbelievers but unbelievers who know the truth, who in fact, in this case, were Jews who had renounced Judaism, turned from Judaism, and begun to point toward Christ but had never really received Christ. They had gone away from Judaism but they hadn’t stepped into a real relationship with Christ. And so they’re turning around, they’re facing Christ, and they’re in great danger because of persecution and social pressure and all of this and the love of their own sin. They’re in great danger of turning around back again and going back to Judaism.
And so periodically through the Book of Hebrews, this group is warned not to turn around and go back to Judaism no matter what the pressure but to take that next step. They’re hanging right on the knife edge of decision, and to take the step of faith in Jesus Christ. Now, this is a most important subject because there are many people who are in this very identical situation, who have maybe begun to turn from the former way of life. They’ve turned toward Jesus Christ but never made the step of real commitment. They are always in danger of having hardened hearts, turning back, and going back into the former kind of life.
And so as we began chapter 3, we saw Jesus greater than Moses. And then on the basis of that, beginning in chapter 3, verse 7, we saw the warning that if those who were disobedient to Moses didn’t escape, who shall they escape, really, who shall be disobedient to Jesus Christ, who harden their hearts against Him? And so beginning with verse 7, we saw the seriousness and the tragedy of hanging on the end of a decision and not making that decision for Jesus Christ.
Now, this gives us a basic introduction to this section, and the warning runs from 3:7 through 4:13. So, tonight as we begin chapter 4, we find ourselves right in the middle of this warning to those Jews, and to anybody for that matter, who is halting on the edge of decision and not making a commitment to Jesus Christ, And the warning comes to them beginning in chapter 3, verse 7, “Today, harden not your hearts.” It’s repeated again throughout this section. The same message in verse 13, “Today, lest any of you be hardened,” verse 15, “Today, if you’ll hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” And clear down in verse 7 of chapter 4, again, “Today, don’t harden your hearts.”
And the illustration that is used all the way through here is don’t harden your hearts like Israel did. Israel turned away from Egypt. They began to go toward the Promised Land, but on the way to the Promised Land, they stopped. And they did not believe God. They did not put their faith in God. Therefore, they never did enter in to the full rest of Canaan. They turned away from Egypt. They never went, that generation that died, never went into the Promised Land. They halted at the crucial place of decision. And so the warning of the Spirit of God in this passage is “Do not do what Israel did.”
Do not be taken away from the old life but never commit yourself to that new relationship with Jesus Christ but hang on the balance. And the longer you hang and the more you hear the message and the more you hear the Gospel, the easier it is to reject. And pretty soon you find one day you’ve woken up to realize – or you’ve awakened. I’ll say it right. To realize that your heart is hardened. You have an evil heart of unbelief. You have departed from the Living God. That’s the warning of his large section.
Now, I want us to understand this because I think it’s very, very important. The message tonight will be for unbelievers, those hanging on the balance. But may I hasten to say, it is also for us believers to be much aware that we need to be urgent in the presentation of the Gospel, and we need to beseech and to beg people, like Paul did, to take the decision, the step of faith in Jesus Christ. And I think so many times, we as Christians are reluctant to really come to grips with people and say, “Right now, why don’t you commit yourself to Jesus Christ?” And if there’s anything for us in this message, that’s it.
Now, we found that in chapter 3, verses 7 to 19, the reason that those dues never made it to Canaan was because of unbelief. Because of unbelief. Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.
Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.
Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.
So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.
Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.
Now, when we talk about rest, what are we talking about? I want to define the word or else all through the message you’re going to be wondering what it is that I’m referring to. In this passage, you’re going to have to stick with me on this. There is rest promised. Now, rest in its fullest sense – and I looked up in the dictionary, and I found some interesting definitions of rest that fit beautifully into the typical, or I should say, into the instruction of the Word of God here.
First of all, the dictionary defines rest as “ceasing from action or motion.” Now, there are just different definitions of the word “rest,” the English word. And the word in the Greek or the Hebrew is identically the same definition. So first of all, rest means to cease from action or motion. You stop doing what you’re doing. The action and the motion is over. It means to stop from labor or exertion. Now, applying that to God’s rest, it means no more self-effort. No more trying to please God by your feeble, fleshly works. And the moment you enter into God’s rest, works cease as a way to please God. They don’t please Him anyway, because you can’t do enough works to be perfect. And so rest, then, involves a cessation from legalistic self-activity. It is a rest in free grace.
Then the dictionary secondly defines rest as “to be free from whatever worries or disturbs you.” Some people can’t rest mentally because they’re always bugged by everything. Every little thing just pounds away in their brain, and they can never just rest because they’re always hassled by everything. To rest means to be free from whatever hassles you, from whatever disturbs you, from whatever creates worries in your mind. It means, in this sense, to be quiet, to be still, to be peaceful, to be free from guilt and the things which drive us to neurosis, psychosis, etcetera. And so bringing that across to God’s rest, we would say that to enter God’s rest simply means to be at peace with God. It means to possess the perfect peace that God gives. It means to be free from guilt. It means no need to worry about sin, because sin is forgiven and we’re at rest all of a sudden. No more anxiety. No more pressure. No more guilt. Peace. So, God’s rest involves cessation of works, and it involves a rest in the total forgiveness of God.
Thirdly, rest in the dictionary is defined as “to lie down, to be settled, or to be fixed.” No more flux. No more flow. No more shifting around. And we can take this again to God’s rest and say that God’s rest is the kind of rest where a man is positionally established in Christ. No more running from philosophy to philosophy. No more being blown about by every wind of doctrine. No more floating over to this and floating over to that. He is established. He is rooted. He is grounded, unmovable. That’s rest.
Fourthly, rest in the dictionary is to remain confident, to put your trust in something. In other words, you rest in something, in the sense of confidence. And to enter God’s rest theologically means to enjoy security. No more fear, you have absolute trust and absolute confidence in God’s care and charge of your life.
Fifthly and lastly, the dictionary says that rest means to lean on. And to enter into God’s rest means that for the rest of your life in eternity, you can lean on God. And you can lean on Him and be sure that He’ll never topple over.
So, when it talks about rest in the Bible, it is talking about a new relationship to God that is available to a man whereby that man can lean on God, can repose on God. That means totally depend on God for support, for help, for power, for everything he needs. It is a new relationship in which a man is confidently secure that he’s committed his life to God, and God holds his life in an eternal trust. It is a new relationship that involves being settled and fixed, no more flux, no more floating around. All of a sudden you know whom you have believed, you know why you believe it, and you stand on it. It is a new relationship with God that means we can be free from that which disturbs us. Sin is gone. It’s been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore guilt is gone. Therefore we have no reason to worry. We have only reason to be at peace with ourselves and with others since we are at peace with God. It is, then, a new relationship with God that means the cessation of works and legalism as a way to please God. That, in total, is what rest is all about.
So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means that all of those things that we’ve just talked about. A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted as I’ve just explained it to you. It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief. And just as Israel never entered Canaan rest because of unbelief, so soul after soul after soul, since the time of Israel and even before, has also missed God’s rest spiritually because of unbelief.
Now, there are also two other dimensions that the dictionary doesn’t handle in defining rest. One of them is kingdom rest, which is the millennium, and the other is eternal rest, which is Heaven. And those are the ultimate expressions of that new relationship. The fullest kind of relationship with God that takes care of you in this life, in the kingdom and in Heaven forever. That’s what God is promising, and that’s what He calls rest. But men don’t enter into that rest, and there’s only one reason they don’t. And what’s that one reason? Unbelief.
Men won’t believe God that He means what He says about rest. It’s unbelievable to think about it, but it’s true, that when God offers a man all of this, men won’t believe it. And even some will turn away from the world like the Jews in Hebrews, and they’ll look toward Jesus Christ. They’ll turn their back to the old patterns, but they’ll hang on that edge and they’ll never commit themselves to Christ. And they’ll find it easier and easier to resist. They’ll find one day they have an evil heart of unbelief, and they have departed from the Living God. And so the warning of the Spirit of God is “Harden not your hearts. Don’t be like unbelieving Israel and miss God’s perfect rest.”
Now, with that as an introduction. I’m tired already. I want you to see the sermon. I’m going to get to that now. And I want you to see four things here; the availability of rest, the basis of rest, the nature of rest, and the urgency of rest. Chapter 4, first of all the availability of rest. Verse 1, the availability of rest. Verse 1 says, “Let us therefore” – what do you mean therefore? What’s the Holy Spirit use therefore to indicate? That means go back. “Because of what we saw in Israel, because we saw Israel forfeit rest, because they blew it and never entered into God’s promised rest, let us look at that and let us therefore fear” – why? Because when you don’t believe God, my friend, you don’t enter into his rest, and that’s something to be afraid of. That’s something to be afraid of.
The Bible says, “Fear not them who are able to destroy the body but fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in Hell.” And you know who that refers to? God. When you look at the past history of Israel and you see what happened to the people who didn’t believe God, therefore let us – do what? “Fear.” Let us fear.
Now Scripture indicates that the Christian doesn’t need to fear. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The only kind of fear a Christian experiences is not this kind of fear but it’s the fear that is reverential awe. Reverential kind of fear. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:7 that “God hath not given us the spirit” – what? – “Of fear.” Believers don’t need to fear, but here he says to unbelievers, “Fear.”
Fear. Why? “Lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should see to come short of it.” You better be afraid, my friend. You better be afraid that you might miss God’s rest. That’s something to be afraid of. So, having reminded the readers in chapter 3 that the generation which came out of Egypt did not enter Canaan rest because of unbelief, he then warns them of a possible failure on their part to enter into God’s perfect rest in Messiah and says you better be afraid lest you miss it. It’s not a trifling thing, dear ones. It’s not a trifling thing to dillydally around with the salvation of God. It’s not a trifling thing to fool around with the rest of God that He offers. That’s not something you fool with. That’s something you consider with great fear for God is a God of judgment. Our God is a consuming fire.
Now notice in verse 1, it says, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us,” – now there is a promise left. The word means being left behind and remaining. What the Holy Spirit wants them to know, those reading the Book of Hebrews, those Jews and also us today, is that when Israel fell because of unbelief, watch this, when Israel fell because of unbelief, that didn’t mean rest was done. When Israel fell in the wilderness, God didn’t say, “Okay, Israel, out the door! You’ve had it! I’m done with you. Move down a few miles and pick up on somebody else.” God didn’t start to work through the Egyptians. When Israel didn’t go into that land, that generation that didn’t, that didn’t mean that rest ended.
And let me take it a step further. Many of the Jews at this time were very fearful that because of what they had done to Messiah, they had therefore forfeited any possibility of rest. This is even a common doctrine today, that when the Jews joined with the Gentiles to bring about the execution of Jesus which was initiated by the Judaistic rejection, when that happened Israel then forfeited their right to God’s blessing. And from that time on, God stopped dealing with Israel, and God deals only now with the Church. There is no restoration of Israel. There is no promise for Israel. There is no kingdom for Israel. That’s call Amillennialism, and that’s a very dominant theology. And the argument is that because of what they did in the Old Testament in unbelief, because of what they did to Jesus Christ in unbelief, they then forfeited everything. They lost the possibility of rest. But here the Word of God says, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left, we come short of it.” The promise is not removed from Israel, it’s still there.
One of the greatest passages in the Bible to prove that Israel is still in God’s economy and God is still working with them is in Acts chapter 3. Listen to this. Peter’s preaching and he says, “You denied the Holy One and the just. You desired a murderer to be granted unto you” – and he’s really letting them have it, these Jews in Jerusalem. And he says, “You killed the Prince of Life.” Now, that’s a pretty strong indictment. Pretty strong. And you say, “That did it. They therefore forfeited everything.” Then you go over to verse 25 and you read, listen to this, Peter says “Ye are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers saying unto Abraham, ‘And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’ Unto you first, God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.”
Do you know that Peter says right there that “Even though you killed the Prince of Life, you’re still the sons of the covenant. Even though you killed the Holy One, the Just One, even though you desired a murderer to be released unto you, you’re still the sons of the convenient which God made with Abraham and that was an unconditional covenant in which God said through you I’ll bless the world, no conditions.” And even when Jesus Christ came out of the grave and supercharged his church, their first direction was right to the Jew. No. God did not write off Israel.
Paul says in Romans, “God forsaken Israel, God forbid. God forbid.” And so the writer of Hebrews can say, “Therefore there is a promise being left to us. Rest is still available.” Is that grace? Is that grace? But he says, “Beware. Fear, lest any of you should seem to come short of it. It’s available. Don’t miss it!” Now, this is an interesting thing, and we need to kind of retranslate a little bit here. Let me give you the translation of this phrase that closes out this verse, “Any of you should seem to come short of it.” The translation that is the most accurate in terms of the Greek construction reads this way, “Beware lest you think that you have come too late to enter into the rest of God.” Did you get that? “Beware lest you think you’ve come too late to enter into the rest of God.”
In other words, they were in danger of kind of talking themselves out of it by the fact that it was too late, that their nation had forfeited it, that the Messiah had bene killed, and that they certainly by this time had forfeited all rights to rest. And so he says, “Don’t get the idea that there’s no rest remaining and that somehow you have seen to come short of it, or that you have the attitude or the idea that it’s too late to enter into rest. There still remains a rest.” This is God’s today. You want to know something, friends? Tonight I can stand here in 1972, whatever it is, April 23rd, and I can say just this same thing. There is still a rest remaining for you tonight, and don’t you think for one moment that it’s too late for you to enter into it.
You say, “Oh, yeah, but, wow, you don’t know how bad I really am. I’ve probably gone too far.” No, the Bible says there’s a perfect rest available to you. But this rest is not automatically yours. It’s not automatically mine any more than Canaan was unconditional. It’s ours by faith in Jesus Christ, if we believe.
In Matthew chapter 7 there’s a very startling statement by Jesus. He said this, “Everyone that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it.” You see, there’s the man who didn’t listen and had a great fall. Jesus says, “Don’t miss grace.” There remains a rest. It’s still available. Salvation is extended. This is the day of grace, right now, April 23rd, 1972. God’s grace is offered to you tonight. He’ll forgive your sin, and you can enter into his rest. I don’t know about tomorrow. I don’t know if tomorrow will ever come. But I know today is still God’s today.
You say, “Well, John, I’m too great a sinner to be forgiven.” No, you’re not. You’re too great sinner to be forgiven on a human level, but you’re just the kind God likes to deal with. See, unless you recognize your sin, He can’t get at you. Listen to what Paul said, 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” – and then what did he say? – “Of whom I am chief.” Sure, I’m too much of a sinner to deserve salvation, but I’m not too much of a sinner for the grace of God to handle. The Bible says “He giveth more grace.” How much is more? More than you need. There’s always more. Always more.
Romans chapter 5, verses 6 to 8 teaches the same truth. Matthew chapter 9, verses 12 to 13, Jesus said, “I’ve come for the sick people who know they’re sinners, not the ones that think they’re pious.” I remember my dad telling me about a little boy who came into a prayer room one time, and he came and he said, “I want to receive Christ.” He was five years old. And they said, “Well, let’s pray and you can ask Jesus into your heart.” And this is how he began his prayer, “God, I don’t know if you can save an awful sinner like me, but if you can, I want you to.” Five years old. An awful sinner like me. God can save even an awful sinner like that.
You see you’re never too far gone for God to deal with you. Don’t you ever think that there’s the possibility that you’ve fallen short. You let God worry about that. If your heart is still tender and if you’re still sensitive to what the Spirit of God is saying then, one, you’re still sensitive. While you can still feel his call, now’s the time to move. God’s rest is available, and don’t you think you’ve come short of it. God still calls. Rest is available.
The second point, the basis of rest. Not only the availability, but the basis, verse 2 to 7. You say, “Well, if it’s available, John, how do I get it?” Three principles involved; personal faith, sovereign decree, and immediate action. Rest is available, number one, by personal faith. This is from our standpoint. Verse 2, “For unto us was the good news preached” – and gospel here is probably a poor translation. We should translate this “good news” since it also has an Old Testament connotation, and the word “gospel” seems to stick in our minds only in the sense of New Testament. And so we’ll say, “For unto us was the good news preached as well as unto them” – and by that, it doesn’t mean that they preached unto the people of Israel the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen again. It just means they got the good news about rest.
So “Unto us the good news of rest is preached, and unto them it was preached, but the word preached, to them, didn’t profit them, not being mixed with” – what? – “With faith in them that heard it.” It doesn’t do a bit of good to hear if you don’t believe. That’s the whole point. The good news of the rest of God does not mean anything to anybody anytime unless it is mixed with faith. And some people have the mistaken idea that they can just become a Christian by entering the church, just sort of the process of osmosis. Hearing the Gospel, knowing the Gospel, being able to recite the Gospel doesn’t mean anything unless you believe it with your whole heart. That’s the point.
Israel heard the good news of salvation rest by faith. Israel had heard it all along. They heard it as far back as Exodus chapter 6, verses 6 to 8. They heard God say, “Believe in me, and you’ll be blessed and enter my rest.” They knew what it was. They knew the good news of believing God and then you’ll be saved. And we know it today. But it didn’t do them any good because it wasn’t mixed with faith, they didn’t believe it. And in Numbers chapter 14, as we saw earlier, it tells us that the children of Israel came to the borders of the Promised Land, sent 12 spies into the land. Ten of them came back with the grasshopper complex, said, “We can’t handle it. There are giants in that place. We’re like grasshoppers. Let’s get out of here.” God had said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it.” They didn’t believe God. Two of them came back. Joshua and Caleb said, “No problem, Lord. Let’s go.” The people listened to the advice of the cowards and therefore were doomed to wander till their carcasses dropped in the wilderness and they never entered the Promised Land, and that’s what happens to people who don’t believe. They don’t experience God’s rest.
And it’s just as simple as that. Rest is available by faith from our standpoint. Now, I want you to just catch a little thought here that’s very important. In verse 2, it says, “The good news was preached,” and there’s a very interesting construction here in the original that indicates to us this is a completed work. The technical name for it I’d tell you, but you’d never remember it anyway. But it’s the kind of a construction in the Greek that means a completed work. In other words, they heard the good news totally. They didn’t get a smattering of it. They knew it from front to back, and there was no excuse for their unbelief. And I dare say the same thing can be said today. There are some of you sitting right there today, and you’ve been coming to church. Maybe you’ve been coming here for months. Maybe you’ve been coming for years, and you’ve come and you’ve heard it and you’ve heard it and you’ve heard it. It’s never been mixed with faith. And you are, my friend, without excuse before God, without the smallest kind of excuse. And may I say, don’t you think that you have fallen short of it. If your heart is still sensitive, God’s today is still open and rest is still available by faith. And without that personal saving faith in Jesus Christ, you can die to night and go to Hell, the same Hell you’d go to if you never entered this church before. And the tragedy of it is that Hell is going to be populated by people who are going to say, “Lord, Lord, we did this and we did that, and we did it in your name, and we went to church. And we went through the rigmarole, and we owned a Bible, and we took our kids to Sunday school.” And He’s going to say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Because all of their knowledge was not mixed with faith. Total saving faith.
Now, you see, this is an important message for the Jew because the Jew prided himself on the fact that he had the information. He figured all I got to do is have the law, and I’m in. I don’t have to worry about obeying as long as I possess it. Which is ridiculous, but in Romans chapter 2, listen to the argument. Verse 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if you keep the law.” The Jew would say, “Well, we’re circumcised! Us! Doesn’t that get us automatically in? I mean, we’re circumcised.” He says, “Well, circumcision’s good if you keep the law.” It’s like the guy, you know, who went into the ring and before every fight he made the signs of the cross, you know. And one guy said, “Does it help?” He says, “It does if you can fight.”
And the point, it doesn’t do any good to have – it’s like a cop pulling you over to the side of the road and he says, “You just went through three red lights. You were speeding.” And you say, “I’m sorry, officer. You can’t give me a ticket. I have a copy of the California state code of laws. I own one. I own a book on how to drive. I’m sorry, I’ve got all the information. I’m not responsible. You can’t punish me. I know the information.” That doesn’t mean anything. That makes you all the more responsible. And in Romans chapter 2, “Circumcision profiteth if you keep the law, but if you’re a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And they were rejoicing over the fact that they possessed the law, figuring that’s all that matters, you know, we’ve got the law.
Paul says it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t obey it. Some people say, “Well, I go to church.” That doesn’t mean anything. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That has nothing to do with it. And the whole issue is faith. The whole issue’s not activity. It’s faith. And unless the information is mixed with faith, it profits you nothing and you need to beware because you may come short of rest. But when somebody hears the word of God and believes it, then they’re saved.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 1 – I love this. “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance into you is not in vain. We came to you. We preached.” Paul goes on to say how he preached, and “We were like a gentle nursing mother. We gave you the word,” – and so forth. Then in verse 13, he says, “For this cause, we thank God without ceasing.” What are you so happy about, Paul? Because “When you receive the Word of God, you received it not as the word of men but as it is in truth, the Word of God,” – watch this – “Which effectually worketh in you that believed.” You see? The thing that Paul was happy about was not that they had heard it but that it had begun to work in them because they did what? They believed.
And over in 2 Thessalonians, the second time he writes to them, he can’t resist saying the same thing. Chapter 2, verse 13, “We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brother and beloved to the Lord because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit,” – that’s the sovereign side – “And belief of the truth.” Paul was happy because they bleived. That’s the issue. James chapter 1, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” – watch this one – “Deceiving your own selves.” Doesn’t do a bit of good to hear it if you don’t obey it. Some of you going for years and years to church, some of you for months, some of you for weeks. You’ve heard it all, but your knowledge is unmixed with faith. I say to you what the spirit said, “Beware. Beware.”
Notice in verse 3, he continues the argument for faith, “For we who have believed do enter into rest.” That’s simple. We who have believed, we enter into God’s rest. We come into salvation experience by faith. And the word here is a categorical word. It doesn’t say, “We are entering into rest,” or, “We are on the way to rest.” It says, “We’re in it.” It’s a positive. We who believe are in rest. That’s a positional fact. Every Christian is in rest. We all live in God’s rest. That’s just another word for total salvation. We all live in salvation experience by faith. That’s the positive. We believed, we entered into rest. That’s a categorical statement. That’s positional truth.
Then he says on the negative side, quoting back again Psalm 95, which we saw is his text all the way through here. He quotes Psalm 95 because Psalm 95 was David describing Israel in the wilderness. So he quotes from David’s sermon. “As I have sworn in my wrath,” – now, watch this translation – “They shall not enter into my rest.” The “if” should be a “not” later in the statement. I’ll say it again. “As I have sworn in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest.” Here he quotes from Psalm 95 and says, “Listen, we who believe enter to rest. But, they who do not believe, God swears in his wrath ‘They shall not enter into my rest.’” Now, you can go back to chapter 3, verse 11 and hear the same thing. “I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.”
You see, when you’re dealing with God’s attitude toward those who are unbelieving, you’re dealing with a very serious, serious thing. And this verse simply tells us that we who believe enter into rest. They who don’t believe fall prey to the wrath of God and forfeit rest eternally. And I want to give you just a little thought here. It says, “My rest.” This is God’s rest. God’s own rest. And God’s rest is not a rest of weariness or inactivity but a rest of a finished work. God has finished His work. God has done it all, and if you want to enter into the finished work of God, it’s available by faith. Now, God’s rest – and here I want you to hang onto your seat – God’s rest – use your brain. Put your thinking cap on. God’s rest began after His creation. You see, God put it all together in six days. I believe six 24-hour days, God put it all together. And once He’d put it all together, then God did what? He rested.
And God said, “It’s done, and I’ve made a wonderful world for man. And I’ve plopped him down there, and I’ve given him a wife, and now everything is set. And I’m going to let him enjoy his relationship with me.” And Adam was walking and talking with God. He was at rest. He was in God’s rest. He leaned on God. He had no anxieties. He had no worries. He had the complete freedom, the fellowship with God. He was living in God’s rest. God had finished his work, and God rested. That’s what it says in verse 3 at the end. “Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,” – and this certain place is Genesis 2, 1 and 2 – “And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”
Now, stay with me on this. You’re going to have to use your brain for a minute. “My rest,” – verse 3, right? – “My rest,” – right in the middle of verse 3 – “Is defined as the rest which began when God finished his works and rested on the seventh day.” That it. It’s right there, a definition. God’s rest began right after the sixth day of creation. God was satisfied. He was infinitely satisfied and He rested, and He said, “Well, man, you can enter into my rest. I’ve made you a lovely world. You and I are going to get along. It’s just fellowship from here on out. You’re going to enjoy my rest.”
And there was only one condition. What’s always the condition for God’s rest? One word; what is it? Faith. Believe. What happened? Did Adam and Eve believe God or did they believe Satan? They believed Satan’s lies, didn’t they? Satan came down and started impugning the Word of God, and pretty soon Eve though, “Hmm, I don’t know about this. Sure looks good. Maybe God’s, I don’t know – I’d like to be smart like that too and know good and evil.” And Satan kept working on her, and she disobeyed. And what happened? Immediately, unbelief forfeited what? Rest.
And you know what happened, Adam was restless. No longer did he walk and talk in the cool of the day. He started making clothes and hiding behind trees, didn’t he? Sneaking around with Eve, trying to stay out of the sight of God. You see what happened immediately, unbelief brought the forfeiting of rest and it was over with. And God’s great rest that he’d provided for His creation, man, was lost. You know what the history of the Bible is and the history of men? It’s the effort of God’s part to try to get man to get back into His rest.
Now, God had to do one other thing to make it available to man, and what was that? He had to accomplish the taking care of sin. And so the coming of Jesus Christ took care of the sin issue, and through that death of Christ, men may enter back into God’s rest. And even the people who lived before Jesus were saved on the basis of what God was going to do in Christ, right? We who were saved on this side of the Cross are saved on the basis of what God has done in Christ. But Christ bore sins, past and future. So, through Jesus Christ, God’ rest still continues, and men may still enter into His rest, and the history of God’s dealing with men is an attempt on God’s part to get men to enter His rest of which Canaan was a symbol.
And so God finished His perfect work, and man blew it. And man became restless because of unbelief. And verse 5 says, “And in this place again,” – and they’re quoting Psalm 95 – “They shall not enter into my rest.” God says, “Because of unbelief, man can’t enter.” God provided a rest on the seventh day, and it‘s been going on ever since, and the only people who ever enter into it are those who believe.
My friends, I believe in my heart that those people who sinned in the wandering in the wilderness not only forfeited Canaan but unless they exercised personal faith in God sometime through those 40 years, they forfeited eternal life of which Canaan was only a symbol. And so God swears that because of unbelief, men will not enter his rest.
So, the first basis of rest is faith. The second one, quickly, verse 6, the second basis of rest is divine or sovereign decree. And this is the balance of salvation. Now, I’ve taught many, many times on this, and I’m sure you understand by now that you’re saved because of two things. You’re saved because of your personal faith and because of the total and absolute sovereignty of God who chose you in Him before the foundation of the world. You’re saved because He designed to redeem you before the world was ever created. That’s what’s known in the Bible as predestination election, and I believe in it absolutely and totally. But I also believe in personal faith. And I believe Jesus put both together in John 6 when he said, “No man cometh unto me except the father” – what? – “Draw him.” God does that, but he also said this, “Him that cometh unto me” – what? – “I’ll in no wise cast him out.” There you have the balance of salvation. Its total and absolute sovereignty and its personal faith, and how the two meet, I don’t know and I’ll never know until I see God. That’s His problem, not mine. I’m just glad He said, “Whosoever will may come.” I’ll let Him worry about how He justifies that with his absolute sovereignty.
And so here on the other side, you have not only saving faith but you have divine decree, verse 6. “Seeing therefore it remains,” – what remains? – “Rest that some must enter into it but they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief.” Do you see what happens here? Rest still remains. Why? God couldn’t cut off rest. You know why? Because that would mean that God started something that didn’t have any purpose. He started rest, everybody blew it, so he just threw it away. God doesn’t do that! God isn’t like you and me. He doesn’t do things that don’t matter. You get that? God didn’t start rest for nothing, and if God started a rest then somebody’s going to enter that rest. That’s exactly what it says. “There remaineth that rest that some must enter into it,” you see? God couldn’t cut it off because he doesn’t do things that don’t matter.
And so when God established his rest and man lost it and God had to get into a recovery process through Christ to get some people back into it because He put it there for the purpose of fellowship with men, and so He had to have somebody in it. And by divine decree, there is a remnant throughout history, isn’t there, of believers. It’s always a narrow way, and it’s always few that what? That find it. But some must enter into it. Why? Because God doesn’t design things for no purpose. By sovereign decree, He designed a rest and some are going to enter into that rest. God always has his remnant.
Even among unbelieving Israel. In Romans 11:5, “Even so, then at this present time, there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Some people don’t like the word election. There it is. God has eklegō, called out, selected a remnant to enter his rest. And they enter it by personal faith. So, in order to understand how we enter rest, we must know two things. First of all, it’s by personal faith. That’s our part. Secondly, it’s by divine decree. That’s God’s part, right?
Third thing. The third basis of rest. It’s by immediate action. Verse 7, “Again” – Oh ho ho, watch this third word – “Again He,” – and what’s the third word? – “Limits. God limits a certain day.” Listen, do you think the age of grace is forever? Oh, no! “God limits a certain day, saying in David,” – that is, now he’s quoting Psalm 95 again, where David said it – “Today after so long a time as it is said ‘Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’” Did you know that God limits the day of grace? Did you know that?
And so you see the basis of entering into rest is, number one, personal faith, number two, divine decree, but number three, immediate action. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “Today is the day of salvation.” Right now. This is God’s today. And in Genesis chapter 6, God looked down on that civilization that He was getting ready to drown, and it says in chapter 6 of Genesis, in verse 3, “The Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not always strive with man for that he also is flesh, yet his days shall be in hundred and twenty years.’” And we believe that indication is that God was saying, “It’s only going to be a hundred and twenty years for man, then I’m going to wipe him out.” God limits salvation.
This is God’s today right now. When you see the word today, what does it mean? It means the day that salvation is offered. The day that rest is available. And so the spirit of God is saying in verse 7, “Act immediately.” Today doesn’t last forever. Life ends. It could end for some of you tonight. Jesus may come tonight. Your heart may become hard tonight. The promise will end, and rest is lost forever. This is an urgent cry, that’s why it’s repeated four times prior to this even.
Now, the period of opportunity is called today. And I can say to you tonight with great joy in my heart, I don’t know about tomorrow, but I know that you can come to Jesus Christ right now. I know it. I know his arms are open, and this is today. Rest is available. Don’t delay. Don’t tempt God. So, we see the availability of rest and the basis of rest.
Thirdly, the nature of rest. And this is simple. The nature of rest. Now, the rest that the Spirit is speaking of is not the physical rest of Canaan. That’s only a picture. If it was Canaan rest that he was talking about, Joshua would have given them that, because he got them into Canaan. But that wasn’t the issue. Verse 8, “For if Joshua” – now, some of your texts may read Jesus. Jesus and Joshua is the same name, but it’s obvious he’s talking about Joshua here. “For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” But they got in the land, and they didn’t – they may have experienced a partial physical rest, but God’s talking about a spiritual rest. The true rest comes not through a Moses or a Joshua. It comes not even through a David. It comes through Jesus Christ. And so he says in verse 9, it’s spiritual rest that he’s talking about. Not Canaan rest, not physical. “There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God.”
You know, there’s one thing that all the cults always promised everybody, and that’s happiness and health and wealth and so forth in this life. That’s never the promise of God. Never. God promises that His rest is spiritual, not physical. Oh, there’s a certain sense in which we enjoy it physically as we live in the heavenlies right here. But God’s rest is future in its fullness, present in its manifestation. And yet it’s spiritual, dominatingly spiritual, not physical.
Some of the people who are experiencing the greatest amount of the rest of God are the busiest, hardest working non-resting people from a physical standpoint. Imagine them. And so the kind of rest he’s talking about is not Canaan. If that was the case, Joshua would have given them that. But he spoke of another day, another coming rest. There remains, therefore, a rest to the people of God. And I think by the term “people of God” you could take it generally and mean anybody who knows God, but I think specifically it has in mind Israel. What he’s saying is there is salvation for Israel. There is a rest remaining for the people of God. And in the Old Testament, Israel was called the people of God.
And it’s interesting that in verse 10 he says, “For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works as God did from His.” And here he uses a different word for rest. The word that means Sabbath rest. And this refers to the full and final kind of rest. Ceasing from all our labors. The nature of rest, then, what is it? It’s spiritual. It’s promise to Israel. And I believe God’s not through with Israel till they come into rest.
And thirdly, in verse 10, it’s future. There is a rest coming when we cease from our works. You say, “What does that mean?” Let me read you a verse. Are you ready for this? Revelation 14:13 says beautifully these words, “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me ‘Write.’” John grabs his pen. “Here I go.” “Here’s what I want you to write, John, listen. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’” “Why?” “’Yea,’ sayeth the Spirit, ‘That they may’” – what? “Rest from their labors.”
I believe verse 10 in a reference to that final day when we cease from everything and enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. So, you see the nature of rest involves a spiritual rest here. It involves a promised rest to Israel, and that is kind of pinpointing it to them, to whom he’s writing. And it involves an ultimate sense when we shall cease from all our works, rest completely as God did when He finished His creation. That’s our Sabbath rest, and that’s the word, sabbatismos, that is used here. Sabbath rest.
So, we see the nature of rest. It has a present sense. It has a future sense, the kingdom to Israel. It has an ultimate sense, Heaven as we experience it with Jesus Christ. So, we see the availability of rest, the basis of rest, and the nature of rest.
Lastly, the urgency of rest. And this a closing warning, and I want you to hear it well. Verse 11, “Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest lest any man fall or fail after the same example of unbelief.”
The fourth point that we want to emphasize is the urgency of rest, and we begin by looking at verse 11 and we see that he says, “Let us labor,” but we do not consider that to be working. To work means to make haste or to give diligence. And the idea of this is simply that we would, with intense purpose and intense concern, enter into that rest. It’s not the idea that you work your way to salvation, it’s the idea that you diligently seek to enter God’s rest by faith. This isn’t something you play with, something you put off. This is something you move into rapidly, urgently, with great diligence. And so you see what he’s saying to them is enter into that lest you fall like they did through unbelief in the wilderness. They are the example he’s talking about in verse 11. “Don’t be like them. Don’t fall off because of unbelief, but you enter into that rest.”
So, these Jews to whom he writes are at the point of renouncing their professed faith in Christ. They’re right up to the edge. They’re in danger of falling back. He says, “Don’t do what your forefathers did! Don’t fall back as the generation did in Moses’ time and die in the wilderness, but strive. Make haste. Hasten. Give diligence to enter into rest while it is still available.” You see God can’t be trifled with, and that comes out in verse 12 in startling terms. “For the Word of God,” – what do you mean by the Word of God? When God says something, he means it. And God said, “I swear in my wrath, by unbelief you will not enter my rest.” And it says here, “That Word of God is alive, and it’s powerful. And it’s sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” That’s a great verse. We use it for many things. Let me tell you what it means in the context. He’s saying you better give diligence to enter into God’s rest because the Word of God is living and powerful. And it’ll pierce right down to the inner most part of your heart to see if you’re really real or not. You can’t trifle with God. God’s Word’ll penetrate your heart to see if you’re for real.
You may say, “Well, I believe, and I profess Jesus Christ,” but if you’ve never exerted a real repentant, saving faith, my friend, when judgement comes, the Word of God will cut you wide open and it will reveal the hypocrisy and the sham of your profession of Christ. The Word of God is alive. It’s not a dead thing. Some things are a dead as a dodo bird, not the Bible. And not the stated Word of God. When God says something, He means it. The Word will diagnose the condition of your heart. It will show you whether your profession is real or a sham. It’ll show God, and on that basis God will judge.
And we often take this verse and we use it to say, “Isn’t the Word of God wonderful? It’s an instrument of salvation,” and that’s great. Isn’t the Word of God wonderful? It’s a tool of comfort and a source of joy, a source of food, and all of this! But right here, in this verse, the Word of God is a source of terror. It’s that sword that penetrates in and cuts you in to the innermost being and lays bare your thoughts and your intents. If it discovers them to be sham, then becomes a sword of execution. And if you want to see the sword of execution, you can read about it in these words, Revelations 1:16, “Jesus had in his mouth a sharp two-edged sword,” – 2:16, He said, “Repent or else I will come unto thee and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” That’s His word. That sharp two-edged sword, and He will fight with it against those who do not obey. And then the startling indication in Revelation 19:15 says this, “And out His mouth” – here comes Christ in judgement, Revelation 19, “Out of His mouth goeth the sharp sword that with it He should smite the nations.” Verse 21, “And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth.” That’s His word.
And the Word of God is not only saving, it’s not only comforting, it’s not only feeding, but it is a tool of execution. And some day in great judgement, the Word of God is going to dive into your heart and lay it bare. And the sham of hypocrisy will be revealed, and though you made the profession, the sword will not make a mistake. And if the revelation is hypocrisy, then that sword becomes a sword of execution.
We could say much more about that verse, and we can in another context. But what I want you to see is the penetrating judgement of the sword. Let me add that the word for sword here is machaira, not the word rhomphaia which is the big broadsword, but machaira, the dagger, the incisive dagger that can make the accurate cut in the accurate place. And God’s Word is penetrating and accurate. And like a knife would go in and thrust itself right through the joints and the marrow, so the sword of the Word of God penetrates the innermost part of the man. And it becomes a discerner. In the Greek that’s kritikos from which we get to analyze the facts, to be a critic. God moves in and begins to sift out and analyze a man’s insides and He determines what his thoughts are, and that’s the word that means desires, and what his intents are, and that’s the word that means his intellectual attitudes. He lays bare the inside of a man. And if he sees unbelief, then the piercing sword becomes the judgment sword.
In closing, a powerful word in verse 13. Because of the incisiveness and the devastating power of the Word of God, verse 13 says this, “Neither,” – and we should omit that probably textually and read it “and” – “There is no creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and open under the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” And what that’s saying is this. Don’t think that you can by your religious activity, by your profession of faith in Christ, by having turned from the old life and kind of facing toward Jesus Christ fool God into believing you’re for real if you’re not. You can’t. Everything is open and naked before him. The word naked means all the disguises are ripped off. The facts are laid bare. God can see you just like you are. The phrase opened unto the eyes of him is tremendously interesting, because that word in itself is very unique. It’s rare, but it’s unique. Let me give you what it means. The word that is used and here translated, “open unto the eyes of Him,” all of the meaning of this is wrapped up in two little thoughts. It’s a word used in connection with wrestling, and it’s used for seizing an opponent by the throat in such a way that he can’t move. And what it’s saying is that we can’t run from God. For, continually, for there comes a time God grabs us by the throat and holds us face to face. Sooner or later, we face God.
The second use of the word is in ancient times we used in reference to a criminal, and when a criminal was led to judgement, they would strap a dagger around him, pointing upward like that. And the reason was they did not want his head bowed. They wanted him face to face with his accusers. That’s the very word that is used here. And so both uses of the word have to do with a face to face death situation. And when the Bible says that all thing in your life are open to him, it means the very sword of God will lift your chin to a face to face confrontation with God. Dear one, don’t you ever think for a minute that you’re going to live your life the way you want to live it and God’s not going to know. And don’t you ever think that you’re going to live and go your own way and never face God. You will face a living God. You will face a living God whose Word will penetrate and lay bare your life. And you will have to lift your head, face to face, and be revealed openly and totally to him. And therefore we conclude, today, while you hear His voice, harden not your heart.
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